It is often said that ?prisoners gave more rights than the victims of their crimes,? and on the surface it may seem that this is true. It is true that prisoners are constitutionally granted some rights, but even these are strictly limited. While there are several amendments that deal with prisoners? rights, I will focus on the three main ones.
To begin with, the First Amendment grants Freedom of Speech and Religion. We are all too familiar with the scapegoat of ?free speech? and this does not elude prisoners either. For the most part prisoners free speech rights remain intact, with some limitations, for the benefit of institutional and fellow inmate security, ?clear and present danger,? (Clear & Cole, 101). In short, a prisoner is not allowed to correspond or receive publications that are deemed detrimental to the safety of others. Religion and its freedom are also extended to prisoners if it does not bring harm to the prisoner himself or other personnel.
Prisoners must be afforded the opportunity to practice the religion of their choice, not matter how alternative it is, as long as it does not constitute safety violations. This right allows for special diets, hygienic practices, worship services as well as spiritual correspondence with religious leaders (Clear & Cole, 102).
Another right that remains with the prisoner throughout incarceration is the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Obviously, once incarcerated much of a prisoners privacy is non-existent however, there are still guidelines corrections personnel must adhere to, no matter how minimal. An officer must have a reasonable suspicion to search an inmates cell and the prisoner is still protected in that his belongings can't be damaged. Also, concerning body searches, they must be done out of necessity and not for humiliation or degradation purposes Bell v. Wolfish (1979).
Finally, and the most widely scrutinized, the Eight Amendment frees prisoners of ?cruel and unusual punishment.? Due to the wide discretion that could be applied to this Amendment, the courts applied a three-step test to determine the constitutionality of conditions. Therefore, the ?totality of conditions,? (Clear & Cole, 105) is considered to combat one situation being taken out of text. Most courts agree though, that unless conditions are heinous, that they must rely on the correctional officials or legislators.
In spite of the fact that many disagree with the rights prisoners sustain it is necessary for our justice system to maintain these, because if we start denying Constitutional rights to one group we weaken the rights for ourselves. Ultimately, opening the door for our own rights to be revoked.